February 2011 Archives

February 28, 2011

Synthetic Marijuana (Spice) Use Popular Among USNA Midshipmen According to Reports

Spice.jpgAccording to an story by Daniel de Vise of the Washington Post, the United States Naval Academy (USNA) located just south of Washington, DC, has seen an increase in synthetic marijuana use by midshipmen (cadets). According to one former midshipman, the drug is popular among students including members of the wrestling and football teams.

As a Washington, DC drug charges lawyer, I am constantly learning of new drugs that are becoming increasingly popular among teens and college students. The drug involved in this story is synthetic marijuana (cannabis) sold over the internet as herbal incense with brand names such as "Spice", "K2 Summit," and others. Specifically, they are forms of synthetic cannabis such as Cannabicyclohexanol, HU-210, JWH-018, and JWS-073. According to studies and surveys of users, they create a high similar to marijuana. It is also believed that these drugs cannot be detected by standard drug tests.

These drugs are generally legal when sold over the internet until they get popular enough to make the news and then become "substances of concern" by the DEA and are eventually classified as controlled substances under the federal controlled substances act list. HU-210 was placed on the controlled substance schedules on an emergency basis last fall. It is likely that the JWH compounds will soon be added.

In the case of the USNA midshipman, military law already prohibits the use of these substances, and students have been expelled.

It is my suggestion to avoid purchasing or using any of these drugs for a variety of reasons. However, if you have been charged with possession of controlled substance, contact a DC criminal defense attorney as soon as possible.

February 24, 2011

TMZ Reports Lindsay Lohan Is Going to Jail

Lohan Court.jpgAccording to a recent TMZ story, Mean Girls star, Lindsay Lohan is almost certainly going to spend time in jail. From 2007 until the present, Lohan has been arrested on a series of DUIs, possession of controlled substances, and recently, a felony theft charge for allegedly stealing a $2,500 dollar necklace from a jewelry store. This last arrest occurred while Lohan was on probation for a DUI conviction. The judge told Lohan that if she accepts the prosecutor's plea offer by pleading guilty or no contest to the theft charge, that will be an automatic admission of guilt on the probation revocation and she will go jail. The DA's offer was reportedly six months of incarceration. The maximum sentence on that charge if found guilty is one year according to TMZ so it has been suggested that she will probably plead guilty, accept the government's offer of six months on the theft charge, and hope that the judge sentences her to less than six months on the probation revocation. It appears that the jokes aimed at her choice of courtroom attire may be the least of her problems.

While this story is happening in California and I am a Washington, DC criminal defense attorney, the process involving a probation revocation is the same in the District as well. If you plead guilty to a criminal charge and are sentenced to probation, you essentially agree to a set of conditions worked out between your lawyer and the government. The conditions will depend on what charges are involved. In the case of a drug charge, random urine tests are likely to be a condition. If the conviction was for a DC DUI, it is likely that the court will require you to attend Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meetings as part of your probation. If you fail to meet any of the required conditions, or are arrested on a new charge, you run the risk of having your probation revoked. At a probation violation or revocation hearing, the judge will determine if it is more probably than not that you are in violation of the terms agreed to. If you are found in violation you can receive the full sentence provided by the DC Code without a trial because you already pleaded guilty to the offense in exchange for probation.

February 23, 2011

Washington, DC Facebook Burglar Pleaded Guilty to Two Charges

Face Book.jpgAs discussed in a previous entry, a Washington Post editor reported that this home was broken into by a man who took the time to post a picture of himself on the owner's Facebook page wearing a jacket and holding cash he stole from the house. He also stole the laptop he used make the post, as well as a second computer. Within weeks, DC police identified Rodney Knight Jr., as the burglar. When the police approached him in Southeast DC, they saw him holding his waistband and running. He was in possession of pistol with one round in the chamber. He was charged with the burglary and carrying a pistol without a license (CPWL). He pleaded guilty to these offenses and is scheduled to be sentenced on March 4, 2011.

In Washington, DC, burglary involves breaking and entering (or simply entering) a home or other structure with the intent to commit a crime. If nobody is home at the time of the crime, or the structure is not a home or apartment, then the crime is generally charged as second degree burglary, which is a felony punishable by a minimum of two years and a maximum of 15. If someone is present, it may be charged as first degree burglary. If you have been charged with a burglary crime, your Washington, DC criminal defense attorney will be able to explain these elements to you in relation to the actual facts.

Carrying a Pistol Without a License (CPWL) is one of the most serious gun charges in the District of Columbia. If you are convicted, the maximum penalty is five years in prison and a $10,000 fine. There is basically no way to obtain a carry permit unless you are a law enforcement officer or active duty military, so this charge applies to anyone carrying a handgun that is not registered, locked, and has the ammo locked in a separate container

February 21, 2011

DC Metro Area Man Wielding Ice Pick Gunned Down By Police

ICEPICK2.jpgAccording to a recent Washington Post story, police were called to the City Place Mall near George Avenue just after 5:00 p.m. Sunday. The call was in response to an assault that had allegedly occurred at the mall. When an officer arrived, he observed the suspected assailant "brandishing a sharp object." The officer instructed the man to place the weapon on the ground. When the man did not comply, the officer fired his service weapon at the suspect. The suspect died on scene after being shot. The weapon in question turned out to be an ice pick. Police have decided not to release the name of the man shot and killed until his family has been notified. The police have not released any details about the alleged assault that prompted the call for help.

The immediate question that may come to mind is whether the use of deadly force was justified. There have not been enough details released yet to answer this question, but people may question why less-lethal force such as pepper spray or a taser was not used before resorting to a gun. As a Washington, DC criminal defense lawyer, I often hear from people who feared for their life when being confronted by the police. It is not uncommon for a prospective client to tell me about a family member that was injured or killed when dealing with the police. I cannot say whether these incidents were justified. There is no doubt that the police have a right to protect themselves and the general public, and many times, the use of deadly force is appropriate. What I can say is that when an officer tells you to get down on the ground and place your hands on your head, it's best to do what they say and let your lawyer fight for your rights in court.

February 18, 2011

Update: Redskins' Brandon Banks' Injuries from Recent Assault at Washington, DC nightclub are More Serious than First Reported

Banks.jpgEarlier this week I posted an article about Redskins punt/kick returner, Brandon Banks. Banks was at the Park nightclub in Washington, DC along with friend, Christopher Nixon. At around three in the morning, Banks was said to be standing in front of the club when he saw Nixon involved in an altercation with Jason D. Shorter. According to several accounts, Banks, with the help of a bouncer, attempted to break up the fight when Shorter is alleged to have stabbed both men with a folding knife. Banks and Nixon were both taken to a DC hospital. Banks' agent initially reported that his client only suffered superficial injuries and was released from the hospital. It has now been reported that Banks is still in the hospital with a breathing tube and a collapsed lung that resulted in a hemothorax. He is supposedly still expected to make a full recovery, and will be fit to play on the Washington Redskins next season.

Nixon was originally arrested on suspicion of assault with intent to kill, but the case was formally charged in DC Superior Court as assault with a dangerous weapon. Assault with intent to kill is the legal term for attempted murder. It is common for the police to charge a crime at the time of the arrest that eventually gets reduced to a lesser offence after the prosecutor has a chance to examine the evidence.

February 18, 2011

DC Police Throw in the Towel in the Fight to Get a Working DUI Breath Testing Program

boxing_gloves.jpgIn previous posts, I have discussed some of the problems the MPD and other police departments in Washington, DC are having with their breath testing programs used to enforce DUIs, DWIs, and OWIs. To recap: the Intoxilyzer 5000 Breathalyzer is essentially worthless. The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner (OCME) for the District of Columbia refused to certify the machines as required by the DC Code before they are put into service. The OCME was concerned about the accuracy of the breathalyzers. It has also been reported that the laboratory in Maryland contracted to perform external calibration was setting the DC breath testing machines according to specifications of a different model, which could make any results much higher than they truly are. After much of this has come out in court, the DC police and federal law enforcement agencies began using the Intoximeter breathalyzer, which is a Fuel Cell (EC) breath tester rather than an IR spectroscopy device. It was marketed to be both an IR and EC device but that does not appear to the case.

According to a new article in the Washington Post, the District of Columbia no longer has breath testing and won't for at least the next four months. The police will be using urine testing and blood testing until there is a certified breath testing program in DC. However, blood testing is not used very often because Washington, DC law requires the blood to drawn by a doctor, registered nurse, or licensed phlebotomist, and the police must record who does the draw and handles the sample. This has proven difficult for the DC MPD so that leaves urinalysis. You may be asking how anyone could mess this up. Well, according to stories like this one, MDP officers responsible for the greatest number of DWI arrests are under investigation for improper handling of a urine sample.

Some people may wonder what all this really means. There is no doubt that drunk driving is dangerous and the public has an interest in preventing it. While nobody can disagree with the basic statement, DC drunk driving lawyers are very frustrated with the seeming lack of concern for defendant's constitutional rights to due process. This is especially true when a breath test reading of 0.08 grams can be enough for a DC DWI (Driving While Intoxicated) conviction without any other evidence of impairment, and a BAC reading of 0.20 grams means mandatory jail time. If the police want to use scientific evidence, they should be following scientific protocols.

February 16, 2011

Two Men Killed by Police and Third is Arrested on Assault and Burglary Charges in Washington, DC

Silver Pistol.jpgAs reported in the Washington Post, Akeem J. Cayo, Davon Sealy, and Steffan Fields broke into a house in the 1000 block of Irving Street NE Washington, DC. The house was occupied by six roommates and four guests. The residents and two of the guests were eight current or former Catholic University Students. The three suspects allegedly robbed the occupants and threatened to kill them. One of the students was hiding in the house when he called 911. When the police arrived, one of the suspects is said to have peered out a window before all three of them fled the house while shooting at the police. Cayo was shot and died at the scene. Sealy was also shot and died at the hospital. Fields was apprehended and charged with first degree burglary while armed and assault of a police officer while armed. Both are serious felony charges in Washington, DC.

According to police statements, Fields told detectives that he had been to the house before to buy marijuana from the "weed man." It is for this reason that MPD is considering this a targeted incident and not an act of random violence. The police are still processing the crime scene but have already recovered three handguns and an assault rifle believed to have been used by the alleged burglars.

In Washington DC, first degree burglary while armed may result in a prison sentence of 30 years. An aggravated assault while armed (AAWA) may result in up to 15 years, depending on the defendant's prior record if convicted. If you have been charged with an assault or burglary charge in the District of Columbia, your criminal defense attorney will be able to explain the maximum sentence possible given the facts and law pertaining to your case.

February 14, 2011

Washington Redskins Punt Returner, Brandon Banks, Stabbed Outside DC Nightclub, Assault Charges Filed Against His Attacker

blade.jpgAccording to the Washington Post, Redskins punt and kick returner, Brandon Banks, was at the Park nightclub on 14th Street in NW Washington, DC along with childhood friend, Christopher Nixon. At around 3:00am on Saturday, February 12, 2011, Banks heard Nixon arguing with Jason D. Shorter outside the nightclub. When the argument turned into a physical fight, Banks tried to break the two up with the help of club employees. Shorter is then alleged to have taken out a knife and slashed and stabbed Banks and Nixon repeatedly.

Both Banks and Nixon were taken to the hospital. Banks was treated for what his agent has deemed superficial wounds and later released. Nixon was stabbed in the face and the abdomen several times, underwent surgery, and is still in critical condition. Nixon is expected to recover, and Banks is supposed to have a full recovery with no damage to his football career. Shorter was arrested for assault with intent to kill (attempted murder), but the US Attorney's Office for the District of Columbia charged the offense as assault with a dangerous weapon.

As a Washington, DC criminal defense lawyer who handles assault charges, I have seen numerous occasions where the police will arrest a suspect on more serious charges, but the offense gets "papered" by the US Attorney's Office, and the defendant is actually charged with a lesser crime. In this case, assault with a dangerous weapon is a far less serious offense that assault with intent to kill. However, this form of DC assault is still a serious felony that can result in a 10 year prison sentence.

February 9, 2011

Dozens of Washington, DC DUI and DWI Charges Dismissed as the Breath Testing House of Cards Continues to Collapse

Intox5000.jpgFor years the DC Metro Police (MPD), the US Parks Police, and the US Capitol Police have been using the Intoxilyizer 5000 IR Spectroscopy breath alcohol detector to measure the blood alcohol content (BAC) of suspected drunk drivers. The city council requires that the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner (OCME) for the District of Columbia certify the breathalyzer. According to many recent news stories and court testimony, the OCME refused to certify these machines but they were put into service anyway. It has also been alleged that that the Maryland certification lab has been setting the machines to read 20 percent high because they were calibrating the wrong model.

After this has been shown in court during drunk driving trials, DC DUI and DWI defense lawyers are able to challenge breathalyzer results in ways never possible before. As the MPD breathalyzer program started to collapse, the police also had similar troubles with the new EC/IR II Intoximeter fuel cell breathalyzer. After basically giving up on using breathalyzers in Washington, DC, the MPD switched to using urine testing to determine BAC. This, too, seems to be wrought with problems.

According to a recent story in The Examiner, the two officers responsible for the vast majority of DWI and DUI arrests, Officers Jose Rodriguez and Andrew Zabavsky, are being investigated for improper conduct involving urine testing. In addition to problematic results, they are alleged to have watched at least one female defendant giving a urine sample.

While all of this sounds promising for someone charged with a drunk driving offense, the court will not automatically dismiss charges or exclude evidence. It is up to your lawyer to fight to have your case dropped or evidence excluded.

February 8, 2011

Resident Complaints Finally Answered as Alleged Washington, DC Brothel, Jasmine Therapy, Is Closed for Business

Jasmine.jpgWashington, DC has had long standing issues with prostitution and sex trafficking. From the 1960s through the late 1990s, street walking was prevalent in areas such as Chinatown and the 14th street area in NE DC. With urban renewal and an influx of cash into the District, MPD was able to curtail a lot of the outdoor solicitation of prostitution in targeted areas. This usually involves a greater number of arrests and undercover operations

Even with the reduction in outdoor solicitation, there was an increase in quasi-legal escort services that advertised on websites like Craigslist. This too became the target of law enforcement investigations, and Craigslist eventually decided to voluntarily remove the "adult services" category from its websites in Washington, DC and the rest of the country.

Despite this crackdown, there were still a number of brothels operating as massage parlors throughout the DC area. The police would occasionally raid these brothels, arrest the prostitutes, fine the owners, and possibly get a headline in the local paper. Within a few days or weeks, business would return to normal. The prostitutes that were arrested, who were often poor, abused, and addicted to controlled substances, would be appointed a criminal defense lawyer and return to work before their next court date.

One of the alleged brothels that has been in the news lately is located on the 1800 block of M Street NW and is known as Jasmine Therapy. It has been raided and closed several times before. Recently the city has tried a new approach. Rather than a police crackdown, they were able to administratively close the establishment in response to numerous complaints from neighbors. Well will see if it stays closed this time.

February 7, 2011

Big Brother is Watching - on New Cameras Complements of the Washington, DC Metro Police

Red Light Camera.jpgWashington, DC motorists are well aware of the recent increases in traffic enforcement cameras located throughout the District. There are more than 30 cameras that allow the police to mail speeding tickets and red light violations to the registered owner of a vehicle. If you would like to see the location of these red light cameras, they are posted on the MDP website.

What may come as a surprise to DC residents is that the MPD is also planning on installing crime surveillance video cameras like those used in Baltimore and frequently featured on HBO's The Wire. These cameras can be remote controlled by the police and can be used to see what is happening in target neighborhoods. They also have sound detectors capable of detecting gunshots and honing on the source. What may come as a bigger surprise is that the feed from these video cameras, along with some privately owned security cameras, is being uploaded to state and federal monitoring systems so that agencies can monitor activity in multiple cities.

The use of these cameras present some issues that Washington, DC criminal defense lawyers may face in court. The Fourth Amendment of the US Constitution protects citizens from unreasonable searches. There are some questions as to whether the police can use a camera to look into the window of a private residence and charge the owner with a crime based upon what they see.

February 4, 2011

On School Discipline and Expulsion in Washington, DC

chalkboard.jpgIn Washington, DC, children are constitutionally entitled to a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE). When a student attending a District of Columbia Public School (DCPS), or Public Charter School, gets into trouble in school by disobeying school rules or committing a crime, the school can take a variety of steps. The regulations place different types of violations into one of five tiers, depending on how serious they are. A tier one violation may be not listening to the teacher. A tier five violation involves the student committing a crime that involves the police or engaging in violent behavior.

For a minor violation, such as failing to obey a teacher, the school will usually give a verbal warning. The next step is to give a written warning in the student's file. If the student still fails to comply, the school will refer the student to the administrator. For a more serious violation, the police may be called and the student will be immediately referred to the administrator.

Once the student has been referred to the administrator, the student can be placed in detention, in-school suspension, out of school suspension, or possibly as a last resort, expelled. However, here is where the problems arise. The school is not allowed to kick the student out of school until they have a hearing to determine if the conduct actually occurred and if the suspension is appropriate. The only time they are allowed to remove the child from school before this hearing is with a tier five violation or a serious threat of harm to the school if the child remains. The schools generally do not follow this rule and kick the student out anyway. You are allowed to have a lawyer who handles school discipline cases at your child's hearing, and from what I have seen, it goes a long way in helping ensure the school officials follow the rules.

If the student has been diagnosed with, or is suspecting of having a disability, the student is entitled to an Individualized Education Program (IEP). When the student is charged with a violation, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires the school to hold a manifestation hearing before a disciplinary hearing. A manifestation hearing determines if the student's behavior was a result of their disability. If so, the student generally cannot be disciplined but will rather have their IEP reexamined.

February 2, 2011

Should I Plead Guilty to a DUI or Should I Fight the Charges at Trial?

Courthouse.JPGIf you have been arrested on suspicion of drunk driving, one of two things will happen. You will either plead guilty in exchange for a deal, or you will go to trial. What you decide to do depends on the facts of your specific case, and the decisions you and your lawyer make. Let's look at some facts where it might be a good idea to take a plea first.

If you have been charged with a DWI in Washington, DC, and your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) was less than 0.10, and this was your first offense, you may be eligible for a Deferred Sentencing Agreement (DSA). A DSA is an agreement worked out with the prosecutor through the help of your criminal defense lawyer, where you plead guilty to the charges and agree to complete six months to one year of probation. If you comply with your probation, including going to alcohol education classes, and don't get into any trouble, the drunk driving charge will be dismissed and removed from your record. This is a great option but only works if this was your first offense, you have no prior record, blew under a .10 on the breath test, and didn't act like a jerk to the MPD when you got arrested.

If you aren't eligible for a DSA, the question becomes whether you take a plea deal to avoid a few days in jail, or you go to trial in order to get a not guilty verdict. You need to decide what is more important you in the long run but, if you go to trial, the cops will have to show they followed all the correct procedures, and often times they don't.